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Message in a Bottle

The perils of wines by the glass.

4:55 PM, Sep 21, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Have you ever wondered if you were being had when it comes to drinking wines by the glass? First, the obvious: If you are, say, drinking alone and have no intention of downing an entire bottle of Cabernet, wouldn't it make sense to purchase that $15 glass as opposed to wasting $50 worth? You're drinking less and spending less. Sort of. And when a friend in the hospitality industry told me wines by the glass are a racket—that the cost of the glass is in fact the cost of the bottle—I scoffed. But as Lettie Teague reveals in the Wall Street Journal, that turns out to be true. And that's not even the half of it.

Writes Teague,

I can't count how often I've asked about a particular wine sold by the glass and been told the bottle was "just opened" when it obviously was not. Or I've heard an even less reassuring phrase: "It's only been open a couple of days." The latter reminds me of what my local police lieutenant once told me: "Every drunk driver I've ever stopped has never had more than two drinks."

Then there is the matter of the Enomatic machine, which dispenses wine in precise quantities. It can also preserve a wine for weeks thanks to argon gas—which does ultimately affect the wine's aromatics.

This isn't to say every wine by the glass is a raw deal. Teague was particularly impressed by the wine bars at Aureole in Las Vegas and Bar Boulud in New York:

[Wine director Michael Madrigale] charges Bar Boulud customers the actual cost of the old Burgundies that he pours by the glass. "Only collectors and wealthy people generally get to taste wines with some age," he explained, "I'm trying to democratize the experience of drinking great old wine." Mr. Madrigale never charges more than $25 a glass ("I'll never go higher," he pledged). Indeed, that was how much I paid for a (six ounce) glass of the 1996 Etienne Sauzet Champ-Canet Puligny-Montrachet that he was pouring from a magnum on the night I stopped in. The wine was spectacular. "The bottle cost me $200 but if I sell eight glasses, I've covered my costs," said Mr. Madrigale, who had bought three bottles at auction and had finished two bottles by the time I walked out.

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